Dropping-Out of Socialism: Alternative Life-Styles in the Socialist Bloc 1960-1990

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Humanities


The project 'Dropping out of Socialism' is a study of the hidden side of life in the former Soviet bloc. It investigates those cultures and life-styles under socialism which literally 'dropped out' of the picture - both out of the picture that was portrayed by the Eastern European communist regimes to its own public and the West and the picture that has since been created by historians and political scientists looking at the last decades of communism in Europe. 'Dropping out of Socialism' is devoted to the historical documentation and interpretation of social phenomena on the margins of socialist society: beatniks, hippies, punks, trampers, new-agers, hobos and any other group of people who had decided to ignore rather than comply with the official socialist code of behaviour and participation.

Most people express surprise when told that such cultures existed at all under the repressive conditions of the Eastern European communist regimes. Indeed, even in Eastern Europe itself little is known about alternative forms of life-style and ideology under socialism and much that is known is clouded in myth and prejudice. Drop-out cultures suffered not only from repression meted out by the regime but also from widespread social condemnation. Denied access to the official public sphere, persecuted by the security organs and eyed with mistrust by the upright, socialist citizen, drop-out cultures under socialism live on mostly in the memory of its participants and in the photographic and cinematic evidence of their heydays in the 1970s and 80s. Yet this memory is quickly disappearing with its participants (many of whom due to an extraordinarily unhealthy life-style do not live into old age).

The aim of our project is thus double-fold. Firstly we intend to collect valuable evidence of and about countercultures under late socialism and make this evidence available to future researchers and those interested in the study of youth- and countercultures. The project will rely on oral history as well as on sources generated by the secret service and the communist parties. It aims to recover the multiple pieces of art and writing that were produced in private by drop-out cultures as well as seek out films and photographs produced by groups who often consciously fashioned themselves through self-produced artefacts. Secondly we seek to explore the context and manifold interpretations of drop-out cultures under socialism by engaging in a concentrated dialogue with scholars from other discipline and other countries. The principal grant holders will engage in detailed research into hitherto under-documented case studies of drop-out cultures in their field of expertise, which will put much new knowledge on the historical map. The origins, development and fate of the Soviet hippie movement is so far only known in sketches and shrouded in much legend and misconceptions. Nor do we know enough about the cultural and political impact of Western countercultural trends in East Germany. Yet an equally important part of the project is the contextualization of these cultures into their larger setting: late socialist societies and systems. Co-operation with scholars engaged in research into drop-out cultures in the former Soviet bloc, representing a variety of disciplines from the history of art to sociology, will provide our research with the necessary framework to ask larger questions: To what extent was it possible to drop out of socialism? What can countercultures tell us about the state of mainstream society? How did countercultures differ in East and West or between the different Eastern European and Soviet societies? Did the existence of alternative life-styles contribute to the down-fall of communism?

Planned Impact

Youth policy makers
This project is all about dealing with societal drop-outs and their culture. Most of our subjects will have been young or youngish when they decided to leave mainstream society and culture. Their study and evaluation necessarily involves understanding their motivations and actions. While the project examines socialist societies, which demanded a large degree of conformity, and explores a time that is thirty years in the past, many of its findings will be of value to modern-day policy makers and youth specialists. Generational conflict, rebellion against mainstream culture, rejection of commercialism, the search for higher meaning in communitarian movements, itinerant life-styles etc. still provide the hallmarks of many non-conformist youth cultures today.

Teachers and Youth Workers
A project whose primary goal is not to 'solve' the youth problem, but understand young drop-outs and alternatives can have great educational and socially integrative benefits. Learning about the history of alternative youth cultures can bestow a sense of value to young people, who consider themselves outside the norms and structures of normal British society, e.g.gang members, politically or culturally radicalised youth etc. The material and output of the project could thus be of great benefit to teachers and youth workers, especially, but not only, those who work with youth at the margins of society. Hopefully, via the digital archive and its usage in school and universities, young people will realize that established history is not just about important leaders and great events, but that their very own culture and existence is as worthy of recording and safe-keeping as that of politicians and economic moguls.

Museums and Media
The collection of artefacts and their presentation in a digital archive will also be of interest to museums of contemporary art, many of which such as the Tate Modern and London's Hayward Gallery have in the past showcased the unofficial art of socialist societies. Often historians collect non-mainstream art long before museum and galleries realize their importance. The paintings, writings, photos and films of drop-out cultures will broaden our understanding of 'socialist' art and at the same time widen our general sense of who creates art and when.

Local Communities
A better and more differentiated understanding of Eastern European history is also very important in the light of the many new British residents from these countries, who have started to form substantial communities in British towns and cities. It is crucial that people understand these communities not simply as a supply of cheap labour and potential competitors for benefits, but as people whose history has much in common with their own, and is as multi-faceted as that of Britain in the same period.

There is a wide and varied potential audience for the output of our research project. We are thus committed to ensure as wide as possible a dissemination of its material This will be achieved through the proposed digital archive, which aims to present the primary material collected in a well-ordered and easy-to-understand manner, e.g. providing translation, short explanatory sections and suitable visual presentation. We aim to organize the archive in such a way that it is of use both to the academic scholar and the wider public.

Title Documentary 'Soviet Hippies' by Terje Toomistu 
Description The Estonian film maker Terje Toomistu became interested in the former Soviet hippies in Tallinn. In the course of research she met the PI, Juliane Fürst, who became a consultant and co-producer on her documentary film of the Soviet hippie community. The documentary was filmed as a part road movie, part animation, part archival footage in 2015 and relies in its historical narrative heavily on Fürst's work carried out under the aegis of the project 'Dropping out of Socialism". It is due to be completed later this year. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact The film has already incurred great interest in the film-making community and been taken on by the television station Arte for future dissemination. The crowd-funding campaign as well as publicity for the film online has already raised awareness of the topic among an interested audience worldwide. 
URL https://www.facebook.com/soviethippies/?fref=ts
Description The research carried out under the aegis of the project 'Dropping out of Socialism' has contributed in major ways to how historians now view the period of late socialism. The image of the grey and stagnating Eastern bloc, which dominated historical narratives in the Cold War and beyond, has been replaced with an acknowledgment that it was precisely the last few decades of Soviet rule, which produced a plethora of parallel and subcultures, which in turn interacted with, permeated and influenced the mainstream. The period of late socialism is now seen as a time of highly complex interplay between the 'official' and 'non-official' and considered key to understanding the intellectual and political culture in Eastern Europe and Russia today.

Our project has significantly contributed to and developed this new view on late socialism by carrying out detailed case studies in underground cultures (Hippies, gay and lesbian communitues, rock musicians) and running a much noted workshop on alternative spheres in the Soviet bloc, which involved scholars from twelve different countries. The workshop papers have recently been published by Lexington Books under the title "Dropping out of Socialism'. The need to understand the late socialist period all across the former Soviet bloc has been highlighted by the renewed cold war between East and West in recent years and repeated crises in the democracies of Eastern Europe. More than ever a nuanced picture of the roots of post-socialist societies is needed not only by academics but also by policy makers and educators.
Exploitation Route The project has already produced several published articles, an edited collection and a documentary film. A monograph, a documentary film and a digital archive are still in the making. Taken together this represents a formidable amount of literature and visual material on a topic that has long been neglected and which has entered the horizon of fellow historians not least through the work carried out under the aegis of the project. We have also been awarded a Follow-on and Impact Grant by the AHRC, which will result in a major exhibition of Soviet Hippies to be staged by The Wende Museum in LA. Update: This exhibition is now in the planning phase. Research has also resulted in a consultancy to the exhibition Another Kind of Life at the Barbican Gallery (Februar - August 2018)
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description The Wende Museum in Los Angeles has acquired some of the primary material unearthed by the researchers on this project and is, in collaboration with the PI, planning an exhibition on the Soviet Hippies in 2017. We have now received funding from an AHRC follow-on grant and are in the process of conceptualising the exhibition. The documentary maker Terje Toomistu has almost completed a documentary on Soviet hippies, on which the PI, Juliane Fürst, has served as a consultant and co-producer. The documentary will start showing at film festivals around the world. Terje Toomistu was also the organiser of an small exhibition on Estonian hippies, shown in the Red Gallery in East London. The PI was invited to give a lecture at the opening of the exhibition, which was attended by over 200 members of the general public. Alona Pardo from the Barbican Gallery has relied on the research for the section devoted to Igor Palmin in Another Kind of Life (Barbican Gallery February to August 2018)
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description AHRC Follow-On Fund for Impact and Engagement
Amount £97,582 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/N001729/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 09/2016
Description AHRC Follow-on Grant
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/N010183/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 10/2017
Title Digital Photo Archive 'Soviet Hippies' 
Description This data base contains a large collection of photos relating to the research project 'Dropping out of Socialism', which have been acquired and scanned by the Wende Museum. The database is designed to be open to further additions and will support the Wende Museum LA in its educational work. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This is the first time that a large number of hitherto inaccessible and unknown photographic material of little known aspects of Soviet life will be made available to the wider public and in an easily navigable format with English titles and explanations. 
Description Dropping out of Socialism and the Wende 
Organisation The Wende Museum
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The Wende Museum has taken an active interest in our project and we are engaged in a number of collaborations. They contributed financially to the running of our workshop in June 2014 in Bristol, are helping us to construct a digital archive and will host an exhibition on the Soviet Hippies in June 2017. Juliane Fürst has been acquiring private archives of former hippies for their collection and assisted them in other work relating to the Soviet Union. As of February 2016 collaboration has intensified. We are now actively and jointly engaged in the creation of the 'Dropping out of Socialism' photo database and have applied for funding for the exhibition in 2017. As of February 2017 we have now received generous funding for a large exhibition to commence in April 2018 and have met twice over the last year to discuss concept and materials. We are also now collaborating on another project funded by the AHRC, titled Zone of Kaif: Life, Work and Times of Azazello - hippie, drug addict, poet and artist.
Collaborator Contribution The museum has committed to holding and restoring the exhibits deposited in its care and is given both intellectual and logistical support for the exhibition, which will take place in its new buildings in Calvert City. They are also financing a large part of the digitalisation and restoration of individual items. The collection of hippie archives has generated great interest among museum visitors and been the subject of several successful internships.
Impact Dropping out of Socialism: The Hidden Life of the former Soviet Bloc, 5-6 June 2014, workshop Socialist Flower Power: The World of the Soviet Hippies, exhibition to be held at the Wende Museum in LA, June 2017, including workshops associated with the exhibition Soviet Hippies, a digital archive, work in progress The Azazello project, AHRC funded digital humanities project, investigating one of the archives deposited at the Wende Museum by the PI.
Start Year 2013
Description Socialist Spaces 
Organisation University of Exeter
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration, including joint workshop, with scholars and PhD students at Exeter University
Start Year 2013
Description Spaces of Late Socialism 
Organisation University of Exeter
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Organisation of workshop
Collaborator Contribution Hosting research workshop
Impact Workshop at the University of Exeter, March 2013
Start Year 2012
Description Visiting Professorship at Sciences Po, Paris 
Organisation Sciences Po
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A month as a visiting professor.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting me during my stay.
Impact A period of work in the archives of the International Social Science Council.
Start Year 2014
Description Consulancy provided to Alona Pardo, curator of Barbican Gallery, for exhibition Another Life on Igor Palmin and his photographic subjects 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Alone Pardo included the photographer Igor Palmin into the exhibition Another Kind of Life (Barbican Gallery February to August 2018) on my recommendation. I also wrote the entry on Igor Palmin for the exhibition catalogue. This is the first time Palmin's pictures have been seen in the UK or indeed outside Russia. The exhibition has been covered in reviews in the national and international press. It is still ongoing, hence there is no availability on audience figures or reactions by the general public yet.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2018/event/another-kind-of-life-photography-on-the-margins
Description Exhibition Vernisage Red Gallery, Shoreditch London 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I (Juliane Fürst) was asked to give a talk at the vernisage for an exhibition on Estonian hippies at the Red Gallery London curated by Terje Tomistu, a long-time collaborator of the PI. The presentation lasted about 40 minutes followed by half an hour of questions and answers. There was vivid interest in the topic from the audience, which was drawn mainly from London, but included several representatives of Eastern European embassies and journalists.

awareness of academic community in our project, awareness of project as a teaching resource
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.facebook.com/events/627579937407570/
Description Radio Interview with Rana Mitter, BBC 3 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Extended radio interview about Soviet stiliagi and hippies by BBC 3
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Talk at German Historical Institute, Moscow and Memorial Society, Moscow 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The PI presented a paper on the Soviet Hippies co-hosted by the German Historical Institute, Moscow, and the Memorial Society, Moscow. The event, which was part of a regular lecture series, aimed at the general public. About 50 people attended the one hour lecture followed by questions and answers. Working language was Russian. There was a journalist from the well-known on-line journal Lenta, who published a lengthy summary of the talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.maxweberstiftung.de/en/newsfeed/termine/single-view-events/browse/21/datum/2015///all-you...
Description Workshops for local state school pupils 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Over two years, six workshops at the University of Bristol (under the auspices of the Access to Bristol, Sutton Trust, and Year Eleven Summer School schemes) reached 232 students from local state schools. Delivered by Josie McLellan, the workshops drew on material from the project to discuss 'dropping out of socialism', using the case studies of Soviet hippies and punks in the GDR. Students were encouraged to discuss why people wanted to drop out, and how music can be used as a source for the historical study of subcultures. Students were unanimous in their verdict that the material was interesting and gave them new insights into both the history of dictatorship, and the nature of youth culture.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014